Suicide and the Pursuit of Happiness

by Archie Dunlop on June 13, 2013

Sorrow by Vincent van Gogh
I just read about a New York couple who committed suicide. They put bags over their heads, and filled up the bags with helium.

The couple, John Littig and Lynne Rosen, were self-help gurus in their late forties. They provided life-coaching, and had a radio show, called ‘The Pursuit of Happiness, though I don’t know precisely how successful they were.

As I understand it, Lynne Rosen, a qualified social worker, had psychological problems, that she couldn’t come to terms with. As a result, the couple killed themselves.

I’m sure the situation was more complicated than that. However it does raise a few issues.

I don’t want to moralize about suicide. It’s all very well saying that the great religions, including Islam, have taboos against suicide, the view being that God gave us life, and it’s not for us to take it away. However some people, in physical, emotional or psychological agony, might feel that suicide is the best choice. In some respects that’s there decision, and they must weigh their situation with their spiritual outlook.

However if you are setting yourself up as a therapist, or a healer or a lifestyle guru, you have to accept the whole package. You are claiming that you know the answers better than other people, and psychological illness should be no reason to commit suicide. John Littig, the apparently healthy half of the couple, should have been able to use his life skills to stabilize the situation, rather than give everything up in a cloud of helium.

There is also the question of example. When you commit suicide your action will be observed, maybe many years afterwards. If you commit suicide, and your situation doesn’t appear desperate, you’re leaving a message to the world that suicide is acceptable. It’s a message that could be picked up immediately, by everyone who reads about the story on the internet, or it’s a message that could manifest decades later. For example, when Ernest Hemingway was 29, on December 6 1928, his father shot himself. Over thirty years later, in 1961, Ernest Hemingway also shot himself. In 1963 American poet Sylvia Plath gassed herself. In 2009 her son Nicholas Hughes hanged himself. Of course we might be dealing with mental illness, but the suicide of a parent, or even of someone you respect, may lead people to the conclusion that suicide is an OK way to deal with life’s problems.

Aside from suicide issues, the case of John Littig and Lynne Rosen raises questions about the therapy and self-help industry. Do the healers really know that they are talking about? And why do people become therapists? Unfortunately a lot of people get involved with counselling and therapy because they themselves have got psychological problems. Bizarre as it might sound, they feel that the best way of healing themselves is to heal other people. Which reminds me of what Jesus said, in Matthew 7:5: ‘Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.’

Talking about quotes, I went to Littig and Rosen’s website, which at the time of writing is still up, at http://www.wnnlifecoaching.com/. The home page of the website has a quotation from Mark Twain: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started”. Guess what? Mark Twain never said this.  It’s a quotation that has variously been linked to Agatha Christie and Sally Berger, but has nothing to do with the great writer.  That’s another think about the I’m-OK-you’re-OK social network therapy industry.  Quotations from Mark Twain and Albert Einstein abound, with fraudsters, chancers and wannabe gurus hanging onto the coat-tails of towering intellectuals who would turn in their graves if they knew what shades of mediocrity were bastardizing their life-work.


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